There has been a lot of discussion recently about Whitman and the issue of forfeits. We decided to ask the Skyd Staff what they thought so we could lay this issue to rest/beat a dead horse. Here’s what they had to say.
Did Whitman act inappropriately by forfeiting games?
Bryan Jones, Coverage Director: I think Whitman acted inappropriately, because their reasoning was, in fact, to save their ranking. If I were a tournament director, I would consider not inviting Whitman back for what they did at Centex. Should there be any USAU action? No. I think it’s on tournaments to ensure that they get teams that are willing to play their games.
Elliot Trotter, Editor-in-Chief: “Inappropriately” is an oversimplification. What is the goal of the college series? If it’s to win the College Championships then according the the USA Ultimate system, Whitman acted exactly how they should act. By forfeiting they protected their ranking, likely an additional bid for the NW and thus an opportunity to compete at the Championships. If the goal is to play ultimate and perhaps enjoy the spirit of competition, then Whitman was inconsiderate to other teams. Ultimate is not yet in a place where we can avoid factoring in the grassroots nature of competing in the series and any given tournament. I would not have been pleased to fly to Austin, only to have my opponent forfeit for rankings. I’d be livid and would probably lose a lot of respect for that team in the moment. Forfeiting is not Ultimate and certainly not the exemplary of the sport we hope it to one day become. Nevertheless, in an imperfect system, there will be imperfect actions. In the end there’s only one way to qualify for the Championships.
Robyn Fennig, Women’s Correspondent: I, without a doubt, believe that any team who willingly chooses to forfeit games with the intention of increasing their season ranking is acting inappropriately. Any team who chooses to do the same undermines the reason why we play the game. By willingly forfeiting to save rankings we take away the idea that anyone can compete for a shot at nationals, that any underdog can compete with the elite teams, and that we play the game because we love it. No one who loves Ultimate plays it to outsmart a system (if that were the case, they would not love the game, but would be pointing out the weakness of a flawed system). How is it that any underdog who is not your typical “top team” gets to the big show? They earn it throughout a season, and show that they are serious.
Ben Beehner, Editor: You cannot blame Whitman for forfeiting games to help get to nationals. Getting to nationals is every team’s mission. This is a symptom of a broken system. It’s a system that is promoting skipped games and hurting the attractiveness of tournaments to competitive teams. Placing the responsibility on the teams forfeiting so they can get to nationals is unfair. The real blame is on the faulty rankings.
Adam Restad, Editor: No, Whitman acted complete within the rules. Am I right in saying that there is no written rule stating a team cannot forfeit games? Whether it’s due to exhaustion, injury, flights home, or rankings forfeits are frustrating for the opposing team, but necessary in the eyes of the forfeiter. If I were coaching a team that was looking at making a run at DI, I would forfeit games that would hurt our ranking, thus our chances of winning another nationals bid.
Griffin Muckley, Asst. Editor: I think a forfeit at a sanctioned tournament (outside of uncontrollable circumstances) is always inappropriate for two reasons. First, if Ultimate players want to take the sport to a higher level (like many of us do) we have to treat the sport like it’s already there. A college football team would never forfeit a game because they just didn’t feel like playing, so why should an elite college Ultimate team? Secondly, a forfeit (especially in this Whitman case) is an atrocious violation of Spirit of the Game. Other teams spent time and money to play a tournament, and to deny them their game isn’t right. In the case of Whitman, to strategically forfeit a game is a slap to the face of Spirit. Some might say “Spirit” is a weak argument here, but it’s what the sport was built on and what sets it apart from other sports. To lose this aspect of the sport would be detrimental to the game.
Adam Lerman, Women’s Correspondent: Whitman earned their ranking. They played 11 sanctioned games, and I haven’t heard anyone question what happened on the field. The system encourages teams to be aware of their ranking when they make decisions to attend or not attend a tournament, to rest or play their starters, to try out new tactics or stick to what they do best, and to play out all their games or decide to forfeit at the end of a tournament. Whitman found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose either to play Ultimate or to forfeit and lock in a strength bid for their region. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize them for doing what they thought was best for their team.
Should they system be changed to penalize forfeits?
Bryan Jones, Coverage Director: Forfeits are a difficult issue. The way Whitman has done it, I think, would deserve penalizing. In regards to other forfeits, there are teams that have to leave, or are truly run down and not be able to play a game. I’m not sure there can be any wide-ranging penalizing brought down by the USAU. I think it’s up to TD’s to police this and for USAU to give guidelines on how to handle it.
Elliot Trotter, Editor-in-Chief:Yes. Of course, tournaments should penalize teams for forfeiting. Maybe they have to pay an additional fee on top of their bid fee. It should hurt rankings too. Granted, there are situations where teams must forfeit. Perhaps with players injured and inevitable loss (rookie line anyone?) it’s not good for anyone to play that game. Would Arizona St. really wanted to have played Whitman’s bottom 7? Would a win like that make anyone feel all warm and marshmallowey on the inside? Would that loss be valuable to Whitman’s team moral/experience? As a captain, I’d certainly think twice about the viability of that game in regard to future success. There should be a penalizing baseline for outright forfeits, but they should be considered on a case by case basis. As long as the college series is a player-run club sport, there will always be a need for exceptions. I like Griffin’s idea below.
Robyn Fennig, Women’s Correspondent: Sadly, I do not think that USAU can address this problem fairly in a mathematical sense, as few, if any teams, will openly admit to forfeiting to bolster rankings to affect bid allocations. Having been part of teams that barely have enough healthy players to put on a line at the end of Sunday, it does not make sense to force teams to play injured players or with 5 on the line, to prove a point and force top teams to play it out. I do, however, think that USAU can penalize the leaders of a team who carry out a questionable decision that undermines Spirit of the Game and the game of Ultimate, itself. Captains and coaches should be sanctioned for such actions. At the end of the day, it is up to the captains and coaches of these teams in contention for bids to forfeit. USAU can target these individuals.
Ben Beehner, Editor: My initial thought is to record the forfeits as 15-0. But this is a very complicated issue with no easy answer. The forfeited games and tournaments-that-can-only-hurt-you problems have to be addressed. USAU must understand their symbiotic relationship with tournament directors. It’s good for the sport to have lots of attractive tournaments and plenty of competition. There are more than just 20 college teams out there, and they are all entitled to a competitive season. Luckily, there are a lot of intelligent contributors and people in the ultimate community who are exploring variations with the algorithm.
Adam Restad, Editor: No, I think the algorithm should be fixed so that playing teams below your ranking won’t hurt your ranking. Forfeiting is just playing into the unfortunate system USAU has created.
Griffin Muckley, Asst. Editor: Yes. From what I understand, if a team doesn’t take the field their opponent can start assessing points until the game cap is reached. I don’t know why this wasn’t the case in the Whitman games, but I also think this is highly ineffective because of how it could potentially skew the rankings of not only these two teams but also their past and future opponents. The best proposed penalty I’ve heard of in the Ulti-blogosphere is to allow a forfeit, but then take away that team’s ability to procure a strength bid for their region that season. That way RRIs remain unskewed, but it would prevent elite teams from forfeiting just to win a bid. Opponents might be upset that they don’t benefit, but in reality they didn’t win a game, so they shouldn’t move up in the rankings.
Christian Brink, Editor: Strategic forfeits should definitely be restricted in some way, and I think that burden falls on USAU – not TDs. A blanket rule like “forfeiting a game will void every other game played that weekend” sounds pretty scary, and would be easy to enforce. However, a rule this broad could hurt small teams that don’t have the depth of bigger programs, because smaller teams are more likely to have suffered injuries to too many of their players to play the game. This rule would also encourage teams to bring more players, which could be a serious restriction for up-and-coming schools. They would either have to bring more players (and incur those extra expenses) or risk not being able to field a team late in the tournament and lose all that they fought for over the weekend.
Adam Lerman, Women’s Correspondent: In a world where TD’s can set whatever schedule and format they want, and the final schedule often isn’t posted until a day before the tournament, I don’t think there’s any good way to penalize forfeits. I would support requiring 18 sanctioned games for teams to be included in the rankings for the purposes of assigning D-I Champies bids. The only top 20 teams that didn’t play 18 games were Whitman and Ohio (who apparently dropped out of the Chicago Invite to protect their ranking). I think it’s reasonable to ask elite teams to play three tournaments to earn a Champies bid.
Feature photo by Kyle Mcbard (UltiPhotos.com)